Flash! Media's Miserable Mistakes All Your Fault!
I don't know how this escaped my attention. Terence Smith is a real journalist with integrity (one of far too few, I'm tempted to add), whose occasional reports and interviews on PBS' Jim Lehrer News Hour always are as welcome as a cool breeze on a dog day afternoon. I often find myself wishing he were able to appear more frequently.
Turns out he does! For some time, apparently, he's been writing blog-like commentaries about media coverage of the 2004 elections. You can find them by picking through the "Politics 101" list of archived audio files containing his on-air PBS work.
Among Smith's non-broadcast reports are a few pieces about media coverage of the political conventions just concluded. They're really quite good: unique perspective, well written, entertaining. (I would add "fair and balanced" but that phrase has been forever corrupted, I'm sorry to say.)
As the G.O.P convention was just getting underway, Smith reported on an assemblage of 'a couple of hundred editors, reporters and critics' who came together 'in the stately, wood-paneled main dining room of the Harvard Club' to 'lament the wayward ways of the press.' The excessive media attention they were giving to the Swift Boat Liars was topic number one.
So what did these estwhile paragons of the mass media have to say about their collective failure?
Specifically, they were upset about the way the coverage of the presidential campaign had been hijacked by the sponsors of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the private group of Vietnam veterans who have run television ads challenging Senator John Kerry's valor and veracity about his battlefield experiences.
Of the 500,000 political ad airings so far in this campaign, only a little more than 700 have been bought and paid for by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But thanks to the "free media" they have received -- news organizations running the ads over and over -- the Swift Boat charges dominated campaign coverage for the last three weeks leading up to the convention. Polls suggest that the ads, which have been widely discredited, nonetheless have injured Senator Kerry's image with the public.
Okay, so who among them did these media moguls blame for the sensationalist, misleading, and disreputable news coverage? Cable TV news networks? Fox News? Lazy reporters? Stupid newspaper editors?
Nope. Nope. Nope. And nope.
Terence Smith seems to my reader's eye as bemused as you will be by the answer. It was all the fault of bloggers!
Shame on you and me. What were we thinking?